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I was able to spend a few hours at Gunsite again last week. I worked on close range scenarios involving both open hands and knife. By close range, I mean within 15 feet or so. My main takeaway: if someone decides to do violence to you at close range, by surprise, if they are determined in their attack, your concealed carry firearm probably won’t do you a  bit of good. I came away from the training feeling that I’m only beginning to know how much I don’t know about armed self-defense. Which is the first step toward avoiding or alleviating the problem of close-range contact . . .

The extremely close range fight is really the worst of situations for the defender.  If a criminal has gotten that close to you without alerting your “alarm systems,” you are likely distracted or deceived in some fashion. You are in a deep pit and it ain’t going to be pretty trying to climb back out of it. As such, simulated close encounters of the criminal kind are a great “worst case” situation for training.

First we spent some time in a classroom with a blue gun and a knife trainer. Dave emphasized that self defense needs to be focused on the problem. The problem is the person, not the knife, or the gun, or the punch. Our response should concentrate less on the bad guy’s weapon as regaining the initiative in the fight.

After discussing various scenarios, Trainer Dave took a couple runs at me with the knife, directing me to draw on him (classic Tueller drill stuff). It was a revelation: watching myself backpedaling, getting stabbed repeatedly as I struggled to get my gun into the fight. I was just like the cops in this video. A determined, real-world attacker would have put me on the ground and sewing-machined my skin.

We discussed our natural instinct to back-up and draw. That strategy fails badly because a determined attacker can run forward faster than a defender can run backward. At close range, you have to do something to create space (and time) to access your weapon. Gunsite counsels movement (if possible) to the side/flank, assuming a solid stance, and protecting the head/neck while viciously counter attacking. In theory, your counter attack gains you the space/time necessary to get out of Dodge, or access your weapon.

I realized I need to supplement my startle response with an attack response. It’s essential to respond to close range violence counter-intuitively, with an immediate and sudden escalation in violence.

I need to move and or get set into a protective stance, take the initial hit/stab from the best position possible and strike back in a way that takes my opponent’s vision, thinking or breathing away. Then continue to attack until I’m able to disengage and access my gun. Or simply disengage completely. Going for the gun at these distances simply will not work with a committed attacker.

It was a lot of info to process in a short time, but it made me realize that I am nearly useless right now against any sort of unarmed combatives. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but it gives me something to work on.

After the classroom time we headed to the range to work on shooting from retention, moving laterally and forward and backward while shooting. I felt more comfortable out here as most of the shooting stuff is review other than shooting from a high retention position.

In retention, essentially, you’re leaning a bit forward with a bent waist, support arm up and protecting you head, pistol drawn, and locked into the ribs on a bit of an angle so the slide does not foul on clothing.

We were about three feet from the target. Amazingly (and educationally) my first round missed. You can not see the pistol at all and are relying completely on indexing. Body indexing sucks. This is why some sort of visual reference to the gun is so essential while shooting. My round would have hit if I was in contact with another person which is the point of this exercise anyway.

Shooting from this retention position is a little freaky because parts of my body, including my face are forward of the muzzle. The blast, ejecta and heat coming from the muzzle (never mind the bullet) are disconcerting—to say the least.

All in all, it was a good half day of training and I learned a lot about myself and the dynamics of a fight. My take-home lesson: be fight-focused, not tool focused. The person is the problem. Deal with the person.

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  1. Great eye-opening article and videos, Eric – I’d love to see more of these types of posts.

    Thank you.

  2. This article, and others recently posted on TTAG, have really impressed me with the realities of how difficult personal defense is and how ill-prepared many of us probably are (specifically including myself). Thanks very much for this information and insight!
    Please keep it coming along with the great variety of other content you provide. With TTAG’s page views passing 2 million a month you are providing ever more people with worthwhile doses of reality that may save lives and injuries, and put away a few more “bad guys”.

  3. Men and a co-worker were practicing some knife defense techniques yesterday and the one thing that really resonated with the both of us is that if you are going to get into a knife fight, you are going to get cut. You may win the fight but you won’t get away clean. If you can’t create space between you and your attacker, then you need to position yourself so that you can take the first blow in a non-vital area and attempt to disarm the attacker, or arm yourself. Knife wielding opponents are dangerous, but there are techniques to deal with them, however most of them involve you taking some damage in the process.

    • Knife fights dont happen. One person gets stabbed and cut, and the other person does the stabbing and cutting. Any criminal with any experence wont even let you see that he has a blade before its too late. This idea that you’re going to be able to square off against some one and duel with them is absurd. You may be able to fend them off, though, and being able to deal with a knife weilding adversary is very important, but practicing for knife fighting…You’re wasting your time.

      • FLAME DELETED. WARNING: One more such comment and I will ban you from this site. Again. Apparently “being able to deal with a knife weilding adversary is very important” but practicing those important skills isn’t necessary.

        The point I was trying to elaborate on is that if you are in a confrontation in which the opponent has a knife (BTW I believe that is called a knife fight.) you are going to have to accept the idea that you will more than likely be stabbed or cut and if you cannot avoid it the best thing to do is try and take the first injury in a non vital area. BTW this is the same information taught by DI’s at USMC boot. So I suppose the Marines are wasting their time as well preparing for non-existent knife fights.

        For a group that advocates spending 75% of training for a DGU by practicing drawing your weapon from concealment in a room, alone, with snap caps; I didn’t realize the idea of training for another area of self defense was frowned upon.

  4. A knife is a contact weapon. If a BG with a knife can touch you, he can kill you. If you carry a gun for SD, you will not have time to draw a pistol if you allow a BG to get close enough to touch you before you can touch him.

    Learn to use a gun, such as a snubby, as a contact weapon. Learn to shoot it without drawing. A snub-nosed revolver is very happy shooting through a coat pocket or any other material. It’s happy shooting with it’s nose pressed against a BG’s armpit (the best place for a contact shot, since it will puncture at least one lung, maybe both, and often the heart or a major blood vessel). Shoot, then get out of dodge. If you are armed with a gun and the BG has a knife, you need to turn the knife fight into a gun fight immediately, or you will lose.

    As for the Tueller Drill, it’s the Kobayashi Maru test of self-defense. It’s strictly no-win and as such, it proves that nobody can win a no-win scenario.

    • “As for the Tueller Drill, it’s the Kobayashi Maru test of self-defense. It’s strictly no-win and as such, it proves that nobody can win a no-win scenario.”

      Correct and I found it educational because you can’t win drawing a gun on rapidly advancing foe. Something else has to be done first. Failure is educational.

      Thanks for the kind comments folks. I am new to this and glad you are finding the experiences helpful.

      • I’ve seen it won before. You have to create space and time so you can draw and fire. You need to physically attack your opponent in that situation, and do so very decisivley, and then attempt to draw your firearm after you have got yourself some breathing room. If you can knock him around, bloody his nose, and get him out of your personal space, thats the way to go. No such thing as a gun fight. Its just a fight where one or more people are armed.

  5. Thank you Dr. Dave…your account of knife ‘fighting’ is spot on. I worked crime scene investigations for 12 years and most people on the opposite side of the knife loose big time. There were a couple of dudes who thought they were in a fist fight. One guy I talked to at the ER said he was wondering why the guy he was fighting kept hitting him in the chest while he was proceding to beat the crap out of him in the face. Turns out He was the one in the E R with sucking chest wounds cause the guy was stabbing him in the chest every time he hit the other guy in the face with his fist.

    Ralph: Spot on with shot placement: Most folks hit side to side very shortly thereafter take a dirt nap no matter what the caliber. It’s just that making those shots is a matter of happenstance.

    In every self defense scenario, distance favors the most skilled combatant. Even if that just means hauling ass out of the area. Anyone can shoot to kill at arm’s length. Or stab to kill, or kick to kill, or hit to kill………….

  6. A lot of this stuff depends on distance, telegraphing, awareness, and other factors. We had an employee who was moonlighting as a pharmecuetical entrepenuer and was at a bar. A competing firm employee brushed by him and gently shoved a rather large knife up into his abdomen nearly missing his heart and artery. He never knew what was happening until after the guy was walking away and the knife was already extracted from his body.

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